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Sensory Integration Therapy
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The goal of sensory integration therapy is to facilitate the development of the nervous system’s ability to process sensory input in a more normal way. Sensory integration is a term for a process in the normal brain which pulls together all of the various sensory messages in order to form coherent information on which we can act. Basically everything we do requires sensory integration. This normal process can be missing or very badly organized in some people, notably autistic individuals. There are three major areas which addressed with sensory integration therapy:
- The vestibular system, located in the inner ear, relates us to gravity. It gives us our sensation of the weight of our body. It also tells us where we are in space, standing up, or on our head; whether we are falling, or turning our head. It monitors our head and body movements in any direction. It works 24 hours a day, and therefore is a very big source of input.
- The proprioceptors are the neuro-receptors in tendons, muscles and joints. They tell us where our foot is when we pull it back to kick a ball, or how high our hand is when we reach up to comb our hair. Because the proprioceptors are getting input whenever we move, they also are a large source of sensory input. Proprioceptive input can vary in intensity. When one jumps on a trampoline, there is more intense input to the ankles, knees, and hips than there is in walking. Pushing a wheelbarrow full of cement is more intense input to the wrists, elbows and shoulders than pushing an empty wheelbarrow.
- The tactile or touch system has three different types of receptors. One responds to light touch, like touching a hair on one’s hand. This is a protective, alerting sense which makes us check on what is touching us in case it might be dangerous, like a bug crawling on the skin. The second receptor is for discriminative touch, for example when you reach in a pocket and know by feel whether you are touching your house key or your car key. We learn a great deal more than we generally realize through this sense of discriminative touch. The third set of touch receptors are those which receive information about heat, cold, and pain.
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